Michigan State University

Location: East Lansing, Michigan
Website: http://www.msu.edu
Type: Public
Federal Circuit: 6th Circuit

Speech Code Rating

Michigan State University has been given the speech code rating Yellow. Yellow light colleges and universities are those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application. Read more here.

Yellow Light Policies
  • Spartan Life Student Handbook: Residence Hall Regulations 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    To succeed personally and academically, an individual must be able to live free from unnecessary emotional stress caused by others. Physical or emotional harassment will not be tolerated in a residence hall community.

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  • Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives: Resource Guide on Prohibited Harassment 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    Harassment of any kind occurs when a University community member is subject to unwelcome conduct based on a protected category that: 1. Is objectively and subjectively severe, persistent or pervasive, and; 2. Creates an unreasonable interference with the individual’s work or educational experience.

    Q: What are the types of conduct that may constitute prohibited harassment? A: There is not an exhaustive list of the types of conduct that may amount to harassment based on the different protected categories, but examples include: … offensive jokes; … insults or put-downs; offensive objects or pictures….

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  • Spartan Life Student Handbook: Appropriate Use of MSU E-mail Services by Internal Users on MSUnet 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies

    The University’s e-mail services are not intended as a forum for the expression of personal opinions.

    Bulk e-mail: The transmission of an identical or substantially identical e-mail message within a 48-hour period from an internal user to more than 10 other internal users who have not elected to receive such e-mail.

    Unsolicited E-mail: E-mail received by a person who has not elected to receive the e-mail by having indicated a prior interest and willingness to receive communications from the sender (e.g., having previously sent a communication to the sender to which the sender may be responding; being an acquaintance of the sender; belonging to a set of individuals who have chosen to affiliate and communicate with one another for a particular University purpose). Unsolicited e-mail is often known colloquially as “spam.”

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  • Spartan Life Student Handbook: Anti-Discrimination Policy- Prohibited Discrimination 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    [T]he University community holds itself to certain standards of conduct more stringent than those mandated by law. Thus, even if not illegal, acts are prohibited under this policy if they: … Harass any University community member(s) on the basis of age, color, gender, gender identity, disability status, height, marital status, national origin, political persuasion, race, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status, or weight.

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Green Light Policies
  • Spartan Life Student Handbook: Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University- Student Rights and Responsibilities 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression

    The basic purposes of the University are the advancement, dissemination, and application of knowledge. The most basic condition for the achievement of these purposes is freedom of expression and communication. Without this freedom, effective sifting and testing of ideas cease, and research, teaching, and learning are stifled. Knowledge is as broad and diverse as life itself, and the need for freedom is equally broad.

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  • Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives: First Amendment and the Meaning of “Free Speech” 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression

    Regarding free expression, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” The Courts have interpreted the language to mean that no arm of the government, federal or state, can abridge the free speech right. In this context, MSU is an arm of state government.

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  • Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives: Bias Incident Reporting 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech

    Bias incidents are incidents of verbal or non-verbal conduct or behavior that is threatening, harassing, intimidating, discriminatory, or hostile and is based on a person’s: age, color, disability status, gender, gender identity, height, marital status, national origin, political persuasion, race, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status or weight.

    A bias incident that is not an act of discrimination or harassment prohibited under the [Anti-Discrimination Policy] may only be recorded for internal monitoring purposes in order to target resources and support to specific areas within campus.

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  • Spartan Life Student Handbook: Policy on Sexual Harassment 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    “Sexual harassment” means unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome requests for sexual favors, or other unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature when: … such behavior is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that a reasonable person would find that it: a) alters the terms or conditions of a person’s employment or educational experience, or b) unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work or performance in a course, program, or activity, thus creating a hostile or abusive working or educational environment.

    A person’s subjective belief that behavior is offensive does not make that behavior sexual harassment. The behavior must also be objectively unreasonable.

    Examples of Sexual Harassment Many kinds of behavior may fit within the preceding definition of sexual harassment. The following list is not exhaustive. … sexual advances, sexual propositions, or sexual demands which are not agreeable to both parties; unwelcome and persistent sexually explicit statements or stories which are not legitimately related to employment duties, course content, research, or other University programs or activities ; repeatedly using sexually degrading words or sounds to describe a person; unwanted and unnecessary touching, patting, hugging, or other physical contact; recurring comments or questions about an individual’s sexual prowess, sexual deficiencies, or sexual behavior.

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  • Spartan Life Student Handbook: Outside Speakers Sponsored by Registered Student Organizations 13-14

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression

    Michigan State University is committed to the principles of free speech and free expression embodied in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Freedom of speech is central to academic freedom and the related notion that a university should be an open marketplace for the exchange of ideas. The University also has a longstanding commitment to the principles of freedom of inquiry and freedom of dissent. These freedoms are vital to a robust intellectual exchange and the pursuit of knowledge. Different and competing views expressed as part of this exchange may cause discomfort or even offend members of the campus community. The University does not impose restraints on speech for these reasons, including the speech of outside speakers.

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  • Didn’t Mean to Offend…

    September 6, 2013

    Michigan State University has removed a tenured professor of creative writing from the classroom following anti-Republican and other statements he made on the first day of class.Parts of William Penn’s course and personal introduction were downright benign — he talked about his rabbits, Falafel and Chickpea. He also warned students that, as a “child of the ’60s,” he wasn’t always politically correct.But at least an eight-minute segment apparently captured by a student (and embedded below) contained remarks that university administrators say crossed the line between free speech and disrespect, and may have “negatively affected the learning environment.”“When you get older […]

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  • Don’t speak: Report ranks 2012’s ‘Worst Colleges for Free Speech’ in the country

    April 2, 2012

    Last week, the Foundation For Individual Rights in Education released its second-annual “Worst Colleges for Free Speech” list. The Philadelphia-based nonprofit named 12 U.S. colleges and universities that, in its view, continue to impose limits on student speech — even after intense pressure from FIRE and others.  FIRE president Greg Lukianoff released the list on his Huffington Post blog.  Topping the dozen was the University of Cincinnati, due to a pending civil rights lawsuit filed against them by Young Americans for Liberty, a Ron Paul-inspired activist group. In February, the officially sanctioned student organization was limited to a small “free […]

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  • The top 12 worst colleges for free speech

    March 28, 2012

    Who doesn’t love a good awards show? The gowns, the acceptance speeches, the brutal infringements of civil liberties … the excitement just never ends. Once again, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work), has sorted through the hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation that severely restrict the First Amendment rights of their students, and is ready to present a “dirty dozen” of colleges that have attacked freedom of speech with such zeal that we cannot help but (dis)honor them. While it was difficult to choose from such a wide talent pool, certain schools took our breath […]

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  • Outing Campus Censors in ‘U.S. News & World Report’

    August 31, 2010

    by Greg Lukianoff The Huffington post   Today, for the third year in a row, my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, took out a full-page ad in the college rankings edition of U.S. News & World Report to highlight abuses of free speech on campus. This year, the ad focuses on the outrageous case of Andre Massena at SUNY Binghamton. We also prepared a short video about his case: While the complete details of Massena’s case would be enough for a full-length documentary or a feature article, a quick summary of the case goes like this: Andre […]

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  • Michigan State U. drops spamming complaint against student leader

    January 28, 2009

    Michigan State University has dropped disciplinary proceedings against a student it had accused of violating its e-mail policy by sending a message to hundreds of administrators. Kara Spencer, a junior who is chief of staff of Associated Students of Michigan State University, received an official warning from the university’s student-faculty judiciary late last fall after sending about 390 professors an e-mail message seeking their opinions on a university decision to change the academic calendar. The university concluded that Ms. Spencer had violated a policy regarding bulk e-mail which prohibits messages from being sent to more than 30 people. Ms. Spencer […]

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  • ASMSU association director appeals spam charge, makes civil liberties claim

    January 11, 2009

    ASMSU Association Director Kara Spencer, who was found guilty in December of sending a “spam” e-mail to faculty, has appealed to the University Student Appeals Board and hopes for a decision in the coming weeks. In September, Spencer sent an e-mail to 391 faculty members, or about 8 percent of MSU faculty and staff, which raised concerns about proposed changes to Welcome Week. The e-mail encouraged increased communication among faculty before the proposed changes went into effect. On Dec. 2, the Student-Faculty Judiciary held a hearing where Spencer was accused of violating two policies of the Student Life Code as […]

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  • Michigan State Student Receives Warning for Sending a Bulk E-Mail Message

    December 11, 2008

    A Michigan State University junior accused of violating a campus e-mail policy by sending a message to hundreds of professors received an official warning from the student-faculty judiciary on Wednesday, according to the Detroit Free Press. Kara Spencer, chief of staff of Associated Students of Michigan State University, told The Chronicle today she plans to appeal the ruling and is working with the American Civil Liberties Union to file a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court. In September, Ms. Spencer sent an e-mail message seeking opinions from faculty members about a university decision to change the academic calendar. The message, […]

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  • E-mail lands student in hearing at MSU

    December 10, 2008

    The e-mail that Michigan State University student Kara Spencer sent to 391 professors in September wasn’t vulgar, abusive or libelous. It was meant as an informational e-mail, an appeal to speak up about a campus issue. It still landed her in a disciplinary hearing in front of MSU’s Student-Faculty Judiciary last week, facing possible suspension. Spencer had allegedly violated university regulations on the use of its computer network. Those regulations prohibit individuals from sending unsolicited bulk e-mails for personal reasons and set the bar for bulk e-mail at 20 to 30 recipients over two days. For Spencer – who didn’t […]

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  • It’s raining spam at Michigan State U

    December 8, 2008

    by Greg Lukianoff The Huffington Post   Imagine you’re an energetic leader of student government at a major state school. You’ve been in extensive discussion with students and professors about the administration’s decision to cut short the semester. Students feel ripped off and professors feel that two fewer days of instruction would seriously impinge on their academic goals. Working in collaboration with a group of professors and students, you put together a thoughtful memo opposing the university’s decision and e-mail it to all the professors you think might be most helpful in getting the decision reversed. Next thing you know, […]

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  • Do College Republicans hate Allah?

    April 9, 2007

    The College Republicans at San Francisco State University recently found themselves under investigation for the offenses of flag desecration and blasphemy. While the disciplinary proceedings ended late last month with a decision not to punish the student group, the investigation itself points to a troubling trend. The alleged blasphemy was directed at Islam, and the desecrated flag contained no stars or stripes. At a small anti-terrorism rally in October 2006, several members of the College Republicans stomped on pieces of paper they had painted to look like flags of the radical Islamic organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, copying the designs from […]

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  • MSU responds to group’s criticism

    March 20, 2007

    Critics of an MSU’s disciplinary program said they’re confused by the university’s response in reviewing the program. In February, MSU officials said the seminar was an optional punishment for students found violating a university regulation. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, said the Student Accountability in Community Seminar stifles students’ constitutional rights and demanded the program’s termination, prompting the university review. The accountability seminar was presented by officials from Student Life and MSU Safe Place at a 2002 Association of Student Judicial Affairs’ International Conference, which FIRE’s president, Greg Lukianoff, attended. “Every day they run the SAC […]

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  • MSU pursues Orwellian thought reform

    February 7, 2007

    The new year of 2007 has arrived—but at Michigan State University, it feels more like 1984. MSU students, be warned: Your school is engaged in a program of thought reform reminiscent of George Orwell’s classic dystopia. The program is called Student Accountability in Community (SAC), and its lack of respect for the constitutional rights of MSU students is shocking. The program defines itself as an “early intervention” into the lives of MSU students who are observed using “power-and-control tactics” in their interactions with other students. Thought control program  One example given at a seminar about the program explained that a […]

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  • Orwellian dystopia at Michigan State

    December 18, 2006

    “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” Justice Robert H. Jackson, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) The adage that universities are integral to our national health has been said so many times in so many venues it hardly needs repeating. Our young people file through the doors of the university and emerge citizens of our nation and productive […]

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  • MSU punishment not addressing reality; students must be educated

    March 29, 2006

    No one likes getting called names, especially when those names are derogatory or offensive. But name calling, even though we’re in college and should be above that, is not a crime. At least in the real world it isn’t. As we should now know, though, MSU and college isn’t the real world. At MSU, name calling might get you in hot water according to university policy. That policy states that any harassment designed to demean individuals and groups on the basis of age, color, gender, disability status, height, weight, marital status, national origin, political persuasion, race, religion, gender identity, sexual […]

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  • Big mandate on campus

    September 17, 2002

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  • Michigan Senate Subcommittee Proposes Penalty for Speech About Labor Unions

    April 1, 2014

    In response to Michigan State University’s plans to adopt programs from the National Labor College, the Michigan Senate’s Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee has authored a budget provision that would fine public universities within the state $500,000 for “each occurrence” of “any instructional activity that encourages or discourages union organizing of employees.”

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  • Michigan State AAUP Chapter Criticizes Lack of Due Process for Suspended Professor

    September 12, 2013

    Last week, FIRE noted the case of Michigan State University creative writing professor William Penn, who was suspended from teaching after a controversial video was posted on YouTube that was recorded during one of his lectures. FIRE was among those concerned that Penn had not been given a hearing before being removed from teaching—a severe punishment for a teacher, particularly given the apparent lack of an investigation into Penn’s in-class speech.  In the full text of the comment FIRE provided to Inside Higher Ed last week (which IHE carried in shorter form), FIRE’s Will Creeley stated: “As FIRE has long […]

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  • Michigan State Suspends Prof Without Hearing for In-Class Political Remarks

    September 6, 2013

    A video uploaded to Campus Reform’s YouTube account Tuesday shows a segment of Michigan State University Professor William Penn’s “Literatures, Cultures, Identities” course that has resulted in his suspension from teaching. The video, recorded August 29, includes political commentary critical of Republicans and runs for nearly 10 minutes. Inside Higher Ed reports that “Penn remains a paid member of the faculty … and no decision has been made as to when he will return to the classroom.” But worryingly, “[a] Michigan State spokesman said he was unaware of plans for … a hearing” to determine whether Penn should have been […]

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  • Michigan State College Libertarians Host Author Tom Woods

    December 6, 2012

    FIRE is happy to report that the Michigan State University (MSU) College Libertarians were finally able to host author Tom Woods for an on-campus presentation on the economy this week. The speech was delayed over a month after the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) rejected the College Libertarians’ request for funding, claiming that ASMSU could not “fund groups with political agendas.” FIRE wrote to MSU in October explaining that the school could not make such viewpoint-based funding decisions and urging ASMSU’s funding board to reverse its decision. On October 23, the board did just that, and the event […]

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  • Michigan State Reverses Decision Rejecting Free-Market Scholar’s Speech

    November 16, 2012

    Here’s today’s press release EAST LANSING, Mich., November 16, 2012—Michigan State University (MSU) has reaffirmed the First Amendment rights of student organizations this week after it wrongly denied funding to a student group. When the MSU College Libertarians were denied funding to bring bestselling author Tom Woods to speak on campus on the faulty basis that groups with “political agendas” were ineligible to receive student activity fee funding, the group contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. “The right to engage in discussion of public affairs is one of the most fundamental freedoms the First Amendment […]

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  • Michigan State Reverses Decision Rejecting Free-Market Scholar’s Speech

    November 16, 2012

    EAST LANSING, Mich., November 16, 2012—Michigan State University (MSU) has reaffirmed the First Amendment rights of student organizations this week after it wrongly denied funding to a student group. When the MSU College Libertarians were denied funding to bring bestselling author Tom Woods to speak on campus on the faulty basis that groups with “political agendas” were ineligible to receive student activity fee funding, the group contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. “The right to engage in discussion of public affairs is one of the most fundamental freedoms the First Amendment has to offer. Nowhere […]

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  • Attention, Spartans! FIRE’s Peter Bonilla at Michigan State University Tomorrow

    October 5, 2012

    You would think that if any place in America was safe for students to debate political topics, it would be the college campus. However, this is not quite the case these days. Just take for instance a recent incident at Auburn University where a student was forced to remove a Ron Paul campaign sign from his dorm window. This incident is far from isolated, too. So as the current fall election campaigns are in full swing, Peter Bonilla, Associate Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, will be addressing this very topic in a speech entitled “No Politics, Please, This […]

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  • A Victory for Campus Speech in Michigan

    July 30, 2012

    Last week, the Michigan Supreme Court handed down its ruling in People v. Rapp (PDF) and delivered a win for student rights on campus. The court overturned the conviction of Jared Rapp, a former Michigan State University (MSU) law student prosecuted under an ordinance that prohibited a large swath of protected speech on MSU’s campus. The court ruled that the speech restrictions, made under the guise of preventing “disrupt[ion],” were overbroad. This decision stands as yet another reminder to university administrators that the First Amendment fully extends to public campuses.  On September 16, 2008, Rapp received a parking ticket on […]

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  • ‘12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech’ List in the News

    March 30, 2012

    Tuesday, The Huffington Post released FIRE’s list of the 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech in 2012. In addition to the social media storm the story generated, the list caught the attention of a number of media outlets:  University of Cincinnati’s appearance at the top of the list garnered the attention of Cincinnati City Beat. In “UC Gets Drawn into Free Speech Battle,” University of Cincinnati spokesman Greg Hand mischaracterizes the school’s “free speech zone” policy, so FIRE responded to his claim here. Syracuse, New York, press Syracuse.com, CNYCentral.com, and WSYR-TV (Channel 9 in Syracuse) have noted Syracuse University’s placement […]

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  • FIRE’s 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech in 2012

    March 27, 2012

    Here’s today’s press release:  PHILADELPHIA, March 27, 2012—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released its 2012 list of the 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech in The Huffington Post today. Harvard is new to the list this year, joining Yale, Syracuse, and the University of Cincinnati at the top of the list. “These colleges and universities have deeply violated the principles that are supposed to animate higher education,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “Sunlight is one of the best disinfectants, and the public needs to know which schools to watch out for.”  Although schools appear on the list in no particular […]

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  • Adam’s Speech Raises Awareness of Red Alert Status at MSU

    February 29, 2012

    As we wrote last week, FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel recently visited Michigan State University (MSU) to address two student audiences. His second talk focused on the school’s Red Alert status and inclusion on FIRE’s 2011 list of the “Worst Colleges for Free Speech.”  Free Speech at MSU – FIRE VP Adam Kissel from The Other Side Blog on Vimeo. FIRE’s campus visit was picked up by The State News, which published an article recalling the series of events that landed MSU on the Red Alert list: the school brought charges against student Kara Spencer in 2008 for […]

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  • FIRE VP to Speak at Red Alert School Tomorrow

    February 21, 2012

    This Wednesday, February 22, FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel will address two student audiences at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing. MSU earned its place on FIRE’s Red Alert list in 2008, when a student was found guilty of “spamming” for emailing a select group of professors about proposed changes to the school calendar. Moreover, MSU broadened its definition of “spamming” to include sending the same unsolicited email to more than 10 friends, classmates, or faculty within 48 hours. Due to this egregious case and the overbroad spamming policy, MSU was named one of FIRE’s “12 Worst […]

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  • Michigan State Admin: Stop Reading Your E-mail – It’s Inefficient!

    March 2, 2011

    Chances are that you check your e-mail at least once a day. If you are, though, you are wasting your time, says David Gift, Vice Provost of Libraries, Computing and Technology at Michigan State University. In a recent article (which extensively quotes our own Will Creeley) by student reporter Ian Kullgren in the Michigan State student publication The Big Green, Gift provided yet another piece of evidence for why the university richly deserves its place among FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s “12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech,” featured at The Huffington Post. In defending MSU’s unconstitutional policy that labels you a […]

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  • This Week in the News: Greg’s Dirty Dozen Causes Big Vibrations, and Syracuse Drops Investigation of Alleged Blogger

    February 4, 2011

    This has been quite the week for FIRE. No less than 21 articles mentioned our involvement in defending free speech on campus! Greg’s Huffington Post article, “The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech,” was noted by numerous news sources across the country. Marshall University garnered the most numerous citations by far. Davin White, writing for the Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.), quotes Robert’s and Sam’s opinions on the dangers of Marshall’s speech codes, while mentioning the university’s plans to discuss changing the speech codes. Tony Rutherford of Huntingtonnews.net quotes Greg’s explanation of how schools made the “dirty dozen” list, cites Sam’s […]

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  • FIRE in ‘The Huffington Post’ on America’s 12 Worst Schools for Free Speech

    January 27, 2011

    Today, The Huffington Post published FIRE’s list of America’s 12 Worst Schools for Free Speech. An expansion of FIRE’s Red Alert List of the “worst of the worst” schools for student and faculty rights, this “dirty dozen” slideshow includes the schools that come onto FIRE’s radar screen again and again for their repeated and egregious violations of fundamental rights, as well as schools whose policies are so bad that they simply had to be included. For longtime Torch readers, the presence of most of these schools on our list won’t come as a surprise. But we don’t want to give it all away here. Is […]

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  • FIRE’s Free Speech Billboard Ad about Michigan State Rejected

    January 24, 2011

    An advertising company has refused to run a billboard ad from FIRE promoting free speech at Michigan State University (MSU). The ad, which would have appeared very close to MSU’s campus this month, addresses MSU’s draconian e-mail policy. Unlike virtually all colleges and universities, MSU claims in its policy that “The University’s e-mail services are not intended as a forum for the expression of personal opinions.” Here is a copy of the ad that was rejected: In an e-mail from Crosstown Communications President Steve Pickering to FIRE, Pickering wrote that “after review of the proposed advertisement, Pick Outdoor declines to […]

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  • The ‘Spartan Edge’ on FIRE at Michigan State

    October 7, 2010

    Last Wednesday, FIRE’s Associate Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Azhar Majeed addressed a group of students at Michigan State University (MSU) in a lecture hosted by the campus chapter of the Center for Inquiry. Justin Wan covered the event for the online campus paper Spartan Edge.            Wan first notes FIRE’s recent case at MSU, in which student Kara Spencer was unjustly found guilty of “spamming”: The most recent case that involved MSU occurred in late 2008 when ASMSU director Kara Spencer was charged of abusing the MSU email system. She sent out emails to 391 MSU employees discussing the […]

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  • FIRE at Michigan State This Wednesday

    September 28, 2010

    This Wednesday, September 29, the Center for Inquiry at Michigan State University (MSU) will host Azhar Majeed, FIRE’s Associate Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, on the second leg of his Midwest speaking tour. His lecture will focus on the dangers of campus censorship, including the recent case of Kara Spencer, who was unjustly sanctioned by MSU for “spamming.” The restrictive e-mail policy used to punish Spencer earned MSU a spot on FIRE’s Red Alert List of the worst violators of free speech on campuses in the United States. Peter Bonilla brought this policy to the attention of MSU’s student […]

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  • FIRE to Student Groups at Michigan State University: Help Fight for First Amendment Rights

    September 24, 2010

    Today, FIRE sent the following e-mail to the leadership of Michigan State University’s student groups, asking for their help in reforming MSU’s unconstitutional e-mail policy. We wrote: To the student leaders of Michigan State University: This year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE; thefire.org) purchased a full-page advertisement in U.S. News & World Report‘s annual “America’s Best Colleges” issue, calling attention to the worst violators of free speech on college campuses. As you might be aware, Michigan State University is one of just six schools on this “worst of the worst” list. We call it FIRE’s Red Alert […]

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  • Red Alert at Michigan State: Time to Set Things Right

    September 1, 2010

    FIRE’s full-page ad in U.S. News & World Report‘s college rankings issue exposes the colleges and universities that are the “worst of the worst” when it comes to individual rights. At these schools it is downright dangerous for students to express themselves without fear of censorship or punishment. By placing these schools on our Red Alert list, FIRE warns prospective students and faculty members to think twice before attending. Bucknell University and Michigan State University are the two newest schools to receive this dishonorable distinction, having joined longtime members Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, and Tufts University. For the next few days here on The Torch, we’ll be […]

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  • At Michigan State, Student E-mail in Same Class as Phishers and Scammers

    August 18, 2010

    A brief article in Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) student paper The State News carries some interesting tidbits about MSU’s technology services department, namely its proficiency in keeping “spam” e-mail messages out of MSU’s computer network. The State News writes: Each day, MSU’s Academic Technology Services, or ATS, mail system blocks about 400,000 junk mail – or spam – messages from reaching users’ mailboxes, ATS Communications Manager Katherine Ball said in an e-mail. And with each passing day, the system processes about 1 million messages that have been sent or received, a majority of which are spam messages. I imagine that […]

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  • Michigan State’s Free Speech Problems Not Going Away

    April 1, 2010

    Yesterday, Michigan State University (MSU) student publication The Big Green published an excellent article about MSU’s shameful place on FIRE’s Red Alert list. The six schools on this list have displayed a severe and ongoing disregard for the fundamental rights of their students or faculty members and are the “worst of the worst” when it comes to liberty on campus. Students should think twice before attending MSU or the other five schools on the list: Colorado College, Brandeis University, Tufts University, Johns Hopkins University, and Bucknell University. Julie Mianecki’s article in The Big Green explains why MSU is on the list: In September […]

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  • Michigan State University Demands That Personal Opinions Stay Off Campus E-mail

    January 26, 2010

    After FIRE notified Michigan State University (MSU) President Lou Anna K. Simon that MSU remains on FIRE’s Red Alert list because of its extremely restrictive new “spam” policy, President Simon responded by defending the policy. “The University’s email services are not intended as a public forum for the expression and dissemination of personal opinions,” Simon wrote in her response. “Rather, other means exist within the University community for the expression and dissemination of personal opinions.” MSU used a similar policy last academic year to find a student government member guilty of “spamming” after she e-mailed a number of professors about […]

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  • Still Looking for a New Year’s Resolution, Red Alert Schools?

    January 14, 2010

    Here’s an easy New Year’s resolution that Brandeis University, Bucknell University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and Tufts University can make: get off of FIRE’s Red Alert list of America’s worst violators of campus liberty! This week, FIRE sent the presidents of each of the six Red Alert schools a letter reminding them of their schools’ serious and ongoing violations of student and faculty rights, and just how easy it is for each of them to remedy their mistakes and reaffirm their commitment to freedom of expression. FIRE also included with each letter a copy of the […]

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  • FIRE Requests that Student Body at Michigan State Stand Up for Students’ Rights

    November 10, 2009

    Last year, Michigan State University (MSU) found a student guilty of “spamming” after she e-mailed “too many” professors at once with an urgent message about changes to the school calendar—changes that the university appeared to be pushing through on short notice. After FIRE and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (and about a dozen additional free speech organizations) intervened, the charges were dropped. But then, MSU strangely declared its entire e-mail system closed to “the expression of personal opinions,” while leaving so many loopholes that MSU essentially reserved total discretion to decide which e-mails could be permitted or banned. In response, FIRE placed […]

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  • State Court Strikes Down Michigan State University Ordinance on First Amendment Grounds

    October 9, 2009

    Last week, a Michigan county circuit court struck down a Michigan State University (MSU) ordinance as unconstitutional after determining that the ordinance, which prohibited “disrupt[ing] the normal activity or molest[ing] the property of any person, firm, or agency while that person, firm, or agency is carrying out service, activity or agreement for or with” the university, violated the First Amendment. In the court’s opinion (PDF), Judge Paula Manderfield ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutionally overbroad. The case, Michigan v. Rapp, involves Jared Rapp, a former MSU law student who became angry with an MSU Parking Enforcement employee after his car was ticketed, allegedly while […]

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  • How Can Michigan State University Get Off FIRE’s Red Alert List?

    September 1, 2009

    FIRE’s full-page ad in U.S. News & World Report‘s college rankings issue exposes the colleges and universities that are the “worst of the worst” when it comes to individual rights. These are schools where it is downright dangerous for students to express themselves without fear of censorship or punishment, and FIRE warns prospective students and faculty members to think twice before joining these schools. Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, and Tufts University were on last year’s list (here is last year’s ad), with Bucknell University and Michigan State University this year’s dishonorable additions. Last week we explained why […]

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  • Michigan State University: Serious student complaints = spam

    August 28, 2009

    Today, as part of a national ad campaign, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education placed a half-page ad in Michigan State University’s student newspaper criticizing the university’s absurdly overbroad spam policy: The ad refers to the case of Kara Spencer, a student who, after sending a respectful and serious e-mail to select members of the faculty about the university’s decision to reduce the school year by several days, was brought up on charges of spamming. She was then found guilty of spamming and had a formal “Warning” placed in her file, potentially hurting her chances of obtaining employment or […]

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  • FIRE’s Biggest Ad Campaign Ever Hits ‘U.S. News’

    August 25, 2009

    For the second year in a row, FIRE has run a full-page advertisement in U.S. News & World Report‘s America’s Best Colleges issue, released today, highlighting the colleges and universities that have earned FIRE’s Red Alert distinction for being the “worst of the worst” when it comes to liberty on campus. Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, and Tufts University are listed in the print ad, while Bucknell University, a late addition to the list, will be prominently featured in Facebook ads and in the school’s own newspaper.  But that’s not all—in the coming weeks, FIRE will also run ads in U.S. News‘ bestselling guidebook, every Red Alert school’s newspaper, and the papers of the top 25 largest and most prestigious universities in the nation, […]

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  • Campus Clampdown

    March 1, 2009

    Playboy   Attached Files Campus Clampdown, PDF, 847.6 KB , Playboy

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  • Rights in the News: FIRE Brings the Heat to Binghamton

    February 21, 2009

    Adam’s speech at Binghamton University (BU) came at a time of high tensions on the public university campus, as the BU social work faculty continues its assault on graduate student Andre Massena. The Binghamton Review (also one of the joint hosts of Adam’s speech) sat down with Adam for an interview on Binghamton’s speech codes prior to his visit, in addition to publishing an article on BU’s attempts at academic retaliation against Massena, and FIRE’s efforts to win justice on his behalf. FIRE figures as well in an article examining proposed changes to BU’s code of conduct, and is given […]

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  • MSU frees student from spam charges

    February 12, 2009

    A MSU (Michigan State University) student named Kara Spencer is freed of any charges made by the school. The school wrongly accused Spencer as a spammer because she distributed e-mail with a political message to the university’s faculty. Spencer sent an e-mail message to 391 faculty members to boost communication in connection with proposed changes to Welcome Week in September 2008. On December 10, 2008, the Student-Faculty Judiciary found Spencer guilty of distributing a spam mail and so officially issued her a warning following which Spencer appealed to the University Student Appeals Board on January 12, 2009. The university said […]

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  • Rights in the News: Recent Victories and Ongoing Speech Code Efforts Continue to Get FIRE’s Message Across

    February 6, 2009

    For yet another week, word of FIRE’s efforts has reverberated throughout the national and online press. As Azhar noted earlier today, Greg’s latest column for The Huffington Post expresses FIRE’s relief at the dropped “spamming” charges against Michigan State University junior Kara Spencer, but also notes our concern that the online policy Spencer was initially found guilty of violating remains in effect—and thus keeps Michigan State on FIRE’s Red Alert list. As Erin wrote earlier this week, FIRE figured prominently in two pieces in The Boston Herald; the first highlighting the candidacy of FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate for […]

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  • Greg on ‘Huffington Post’: Michigan State Still Has Work to Do

    February 6, 2009

    In his latest column for The Huffington Post, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff celebrates the news that Michigan State University (MSU) recently dropped the absurd “spamming” charges leveled at student government leader Kara Spencer. While this development represents yet another satisfying victory for freedom of speech on a college campus, Greg cautions that the threat of unjustifiable censorship and punishment remains at MSU as long as the university maintains its unconstitutional spam policy: In private discussions with MSU administrators, MSU did promise not to enforce the policy in cases like Spencer’s, but MSU has refused to suspend or revoke its spam […]

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  • MSU student cleared of charges, but overzealous spam ban remains

    February 5, 2009

    Readers of my previous two posts on Kara Spencer’s “spamming” ordeal at Michigan State University (MSU) will be happy to know that MSU has finally come to its senses and dropped the ridiculous charges against the student government leader. This is a welcome change after MSU seemed ready to fight a losing legal battle. Unfortunately, MSU has yet to reform its unconstitutional and misguided spamming policy, which led to this trouble in the first place. Spencer’s troubles began last fall when MSU announced plans to shorten the semester by several days. Unsurprisingly, both students and faculty members felt they were […]

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  • Michigan State University Drops ‘Spam’ Charges Against Student Critic of Administration

    January 28, 2009

    In a significant victory for freedom of expression on campus, Michigan State University (MSU) has withdrawn “spamming” charges against a student government leader who criticized the MSU administration’s plans in an e-mail to professors. MSU junior Kara Spencer had carefully selected and e-mailed eight percent of MSU’s 5,000 faculty members, encouraging them to express their views about proposed changes to the academic calendar. In response, she was found guilty of spamming, but the charges were withdrawn after she appealed—and after FIRE and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took up her case. As Greg states in today’s press release: Michigan State did the right thing by […]

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  • Michigan State Drops ‘Spamming’ Complaint Against Student Critic of Administration

    January 28, 2009

    EAST LANSING, Mich., January 28, 2009—In a significant victory for freedom of expression on campus, Michigan State University has withdrawn “spamming” charges against a student government leader who criticized administration plans in an e-mail to professors. MSU junior Kara Spencer had carefully selected and e-mailed eight percent of MSU’s 5,000 faculty members, encouraging them to express their views about proposed changes to the academic calendar. Spencer’s cause has been supported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and a dozen other civil liberties organizations. “Michigan State did the right thing by withdrawing its bogus ‘spam’ charges against a […]

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  • Obama: Silencers of Dissent Are on the Wrong Side of History

    January 20, 2009

    Today we have asked President Obama to help fight speech codes on college campuses, which not only violate the rights of millions of college students but also teach them that censorship is more efficacious and desirable than tolerance of each person’s views, no matter how profoundly antithetical to one’s own. In this vein, one line from President Obama’s inaugural address is of particular note: To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history[.] Of course, the President was not referring to administrators of U.S. […]

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  • FIRE Pens Open Letter to President Obama

    January 20, 2009

    This Inauguration Day, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has sent President Barack Obama an open letter requesting that, as a scholar of constitutional law and the leader of the nation’s executive branch, he and his administration join the fight against college and university speech codes that are infringing on the rights of millions of our nation’s college students. As Greg says in today’s press release: Millions of American students are being taught that colleges have the power to censor and punish speech that the Bill of Rights protects … Failing to educate an entire generation about our constitutional […]

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  • Rights in the News: Controversy at Southern Illinois Ignites FIRE’s 2009 Efforts

    January 16, 2009

    Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC) Chancellor Samuel Goldman and his administration have been a veritable one-stop shop for newsworthy content lately, as followers of The Torch this week are no doubt aware. In one of three articles penned by Adam Testa for the Southern Illinoisan, Goldman referred to FIRE as “embarrassing” SIUC into defending itself, as though its free speech crisis did not already exist, meanwhile having actually made FIRE’s requested change to SIUC’s protest policy. This prompted FIRE’s press release on SIUC’s doublespeak, to which Testa reported that the university will not respond. Goldman now asks for patience—but […]

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  • MSU Incorrectly Defends Itself in Response to Civil Liberties Coalition in ‘Spam’ Case

    January 8, 2009

    FIRE has received another strange, quite flawed response from Michigan State University in reply to an open letter to MSU’s president signed by thirteen civil liberties organizations. The open letter, written by FIRE in conjunction with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained why MSU’s anti-spam policy is unconstitutional and pointed out the wrongful application of the policy to punish student Kara Spencer. Spencer, a member of MSU’s student government, had selected and e-mailed a small percentage of MSU’s faculty to ask them to make their voices heard regarding pending changes to the university calendar. In response, she had been threatened with […]

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  • 2008 Highlights: FIRE Places Full-Page Ad in ‘U.S. News & World Report’ Calling Out ‘Red Alert’ Schools

    December 31, 2008

    While FIRE works on cases from hundreds of schools in a given year, we have a special list for those schools that have shown unique intransigence in the face of criticism from FIRE for abusing student and faculty rights. We call that special list our Red Alert list, and right now five schools have earned a spot among the “worst of the worst.”  This summer, we decided to step up our campaign for reform at Red Alert schools by running a full-page ad in the 2009 edition of U.S. News & World Report‘s all-important America’s Best Colleges issue, right next […]

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  • This Month in FIRE History: Michigan State University Engaged in Thought Reform

    December 30, 2008

    December appears to be a tough month for civil liberties at Michigan State. For those who have been following Kara Spencer’s “spam” case at MSU, you may be interested to learn that this is not the first time FIRE has been at odds with the university over the holidays. In December of 2006, FIRE called for the end of MSU’s Student Accountability in Community Seminar (SAC). SAC was designed as an Orwellian “early intervention” program, modeled after an approach used to combat domestic violence. Among the many qualifying offenses for admission into SAC was “obfuscation,” defined as “obscuring, concealing, or […]

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  • College Censorship of Online Speech in 2008

    December 23, 2008

    This year, FIRE has seen a number of colleges take steps to regulate online speech. The Internet makes it easier than ever for people to communicate with one another, and thus presents a whole new world for would-be censors of campus speech. FIRE has kept a close watch on the developing relationship between colleges and online speech in order to prevent the establishment of deleterious, and potentially unconstitutional, practices. The most recent online FIRE case involved Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) attempt to regulate its students’ and faculty’s use of e-mail. MSU found a student government leader guilty of spamming for […]

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  • Michigan State Again Misrepresents ‘Spam’ Policy in Response to FIRE

    December 19, 2008

    Michigan State University (MSU) strangely persists in misrepresenting its anti-spam policy, an unconstitutional policy that it has used to punish a student government leader for e-mailing a small percentage of faculty members about significant pending changes to MSU’s academic calendar. MSU declared junior Kara Spencer a spammer for engaging in her rights as a citizen and a member of the MSU community, applying a policy that entirely prohibits anyone on campus from sending “personal” or “political” e-mail to more than about 20–30 recipients without prior approval from the recipients. Only certain kinds of communications (those that are not “personal” or […]

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  • Greg in ‘The Huffington Post’ on Michigan State

    December 19, 2008

    FIRE President Greg Lukianoff has posted an article on The Huffington Post about Michigan State’s finding that student Kara Spencer was guilty of sending “spam” when she e-mailed faculty members with her views about a change in the freshman orientation and academic calendars. As Greg says: MSU’s decision is both outrageous and unsettling for many reasons. First of all, unlike the common understanding of “spam,” Spencer’s e-mail wasn’t commercial speech — instead, it dealt with a matter of concern for any student or faculty member. Fewer school days means students are paying the same (if not more) for less, while […]

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  • Thirteen civil liberties organizations unite to fight Michigan State U on ‘spam’ conviction

    December 19, 2008

    by Greg Lukianoff The Huffington Post   I sometimes like to think nothing surprises me anymore with regard to censorship on campus, but it seems as though every couple of weeks I see something that proves me wrong. As I reported last week, Michigan State University charged student government leader Kara Spencer with “spamming” for sending an e-mail to a targeted group of faculty members. The e-mail, an extension of the efforts of a formal student-faculty committee of which Spencer was a member, detailed the committee’s objection to MSU’s decision to reduce the academic year by several days. To my […]

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  • Thirteen Civil Liberties Organizations Send Open Letter to MSU President about ‘Spammer’ Case

    December 17, 2008

    FIRE, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and eleven other civil liberties organizations have sent an open letter today to Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon in defense of MSU student government leader Kara Spencer. The signing organizations agree that MSU’s anti-spam policy, which was used to punish Spencer for sending e-mails to 391 faculty members about pressing matters of university policy, is constitutionally suspect on its face, vague, allows the university unfettered discretion in requiring prior approval, and discriminates on the basis of content. The policy prohibits the sending of unsolicited e-mail “for personal purposes, advertising or solicitations, or […]

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  • MSU Community Responds to ‘Spam’ Case Online

    December 15, 2008

    Following last week’s press release about Michigan State University student Kara Spencer, who was found guilty of “spamming” for criticizing the administration’s plan to change the school calendar, MSU’s student paper, The State News, published an article about the outcome of the case. The article’s comments section attracted attention from several members of the campus community. The majority of comments expressed displeasure with the college’s decision. “Kevin” wrote: What a slap in the face it would be to MSU if the right to communicate freely with faculty is not upheld within the university. Almost scary. Another student echoed that disappointment: […]

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  • The Skeletons in MSU’s Closet: Thought Reform at Michigan State

    December 12, 2008

    As our readers know, FIRE is utterly outraged about Michigan State University’s decision to find student Kara Spencer guilty for e-mailing numerous professors about the school’s decision to shorten the school year. This decision has earned MSU an express pass to our Red Alert List, and our resources are engaged at full power to overturn this unjust decision.  But as Azhar mentioned yesterday, this is not the first case we have seen at MSU. Indeed, one of the worst thought reform cases in FIRE history arose from the hallowed halls of MSU: the creepily named Student Accountability in Community program (SAC). The […]

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  • ASMSU association director found guilty of misusing resources

    December 12, 2008

    On Wednesday, ASMSU Association Director Kara Spencer was found guilty by the Student-Faculty Judiciary of misusing university resources when she sent an e-mail to MSU faculty and staff in September that raised concerns about proposed changes to Welcome Week. As punishment, Spencer will receive a formal warning that will be placed in her student file. Spencer said she plans to appeal the decision. “Of course I was disappointed,” Spencer said. “I think it’s disappointing that there wasn’t recognition that the policy that the board was being asked to evaluate is unconstitutional.” The e-mail, which encouraged increased communication among faculty about […]

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  • ‘Graduate Admissions Guru’ Says Stay Away from MSU

    December 11, 2008

    FIRE friend Adam Markus has a great blog entry up about our ongoing case at Michigan State University. Markus’ blog is a hub for all sorts of information about graduate school admissions. After posting our most recent press release about this case, Markus notes that MSU is the home of the Broad School MBA program. As he writes: I think the idea that a student leader would find herself in such a predicament indicates that MSU has a real problem not only with free speech, but with student leadership and, by extension, lacks a commitment to leadership education. Clearly a […]

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  • Michigan State University Joins ‘Worst of the Worst’ on FIRE’s Red Alert List

    December 11, 2008

    In the wake of its recent treatment of student government leader Kara Spencer, Michigan State University (MSU) has achieved the unflattering distinction of being named to FIRE’s Red Alert list. MSU yesterday found Spencer guilty of “spamming” and misuse of university resources after she criticized the administration’s plan to change the school calendar. Spencer had carefully selected and e-mailed 391 faculty members to encourage them to express their views on the proposed changes. Despite the fact that Spencer merely wished to alert a small percentage of the campus community—roughly 8 percent of MSU’s faculty—to an important administrative decision, MSU has […]

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  • Student Government Leader at Michigan State University Found Guilty of ‘Spamming’ after Criticizing Administrative Decision

    December 10, 2008

    Breaking news: A Michigan State University student government leader has been found guilty of “spamming” and misuse of university resources after she criticized the administration’s plan to change the school calendar. MSU junior Kara Spencer had carefully selected and e-mailed 391 of the school’s faculty members, encouraging them to express their views about the changes. Spencer’s ordeal has gone on since mid-September, as Torch readers learned last week. After MSU’s administration revealed to members of the Faculty Council the administration’s plans to shorten the school’s Academic Calendar and Fall Welcome (freshman orientation) schedules—and asked that comments about the proposed changes […]

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  • Student Government Leader at Michigan State University Found Guilty of ‘Spamming’ after Criticizing Administrative Decision

    December 10, 2008

    EAST LANSING, Mich., December 10, 2008—A Michigan State University student government leader has been found guilty of “spamming” and misuse of university resources after she criticized the administration’s plan to change the school calendar. MSU junior Kara Spencer had carefully selected and e-mailed 391 of the school’s faculty members, encouraging them to express their views about the changes. Spencer, who plans to appeal her unconstitutional punishment, has turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. “It is outrageous that MSU’s Student-Faculty Judiciary would find against a student who did nothing more than write members of her […]

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  • MSU ‘Spam’ Case Hits Slashdot

    December 10, 2008

    A recent entry on Slashdot, a widely read blog featuring “news for nerds,” directs readers to a FOX News story on FIRE’s case at Michigan State University involving junior Kara Spencer, who was threatened with suspension for “spam.” Over 500 comments have been posted in response thus far. Spencer had e-mailed 391 selected members of the university’s faculty about proposed changes to the university’s calendar. She awaits a verdict today. Many of the comments are informative and interesting. Take a look.

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  • ‘Content Neutral’ Does Not Mean ‘Constitutional’ (Except at MSU)

    December 9, 2008

    The worst problem in the Michigan State University “spam” case—where a student government official, Kara Spencer, faces suspension for having e-mailed 391 carefully selected professors about proposed changes to the campus calendar—is not an administrator’s outrageous claim that receiving a single unsolicited e-mail is considered a disruption to whoever receives it. No, the worst problem in this case is the false claim made by President Lou Anna K. Simon that MSU’s unconstitutional anti-spam policy, which bans unsolicited e-mails to more than about 20–30 people over two days, is constitutional simply because it is content neutral. That’s not only a false […]

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  • Greg Discusses MSU ‘Spam’ Case on ‘Huffington Post’

    December 8, 2008

    FIRE President Greg Lukianoff covers Michigan State University student Kara Spencer’s incredible ordeal over at The Huffington Post this evening, detailing precisely what’s wrong with the fact that Spencer faces judicial charges for sending an e-mail about an important university calendar change to about 8% of the school’s faculty. Greg writes: The crowning absurdity here is that MSU thinks that there is nothing wrong with placing a completely arbitrary limit on the number of people you can e-mail about a serious issue of public concern at a public university. So much for the right to petition government for redress of […]

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  • MSU ‘Spammer’ Interviewed in Today’s Podcast

    December 8, 2008

    In today’s episode of FIREside Chats, Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, is joined by Kara Spencer, the Michigan State University student government leader who faces suspension for e-mailing faculty members with what an administrator has deemed “spam.” Spencer e-mailed about 8 percent of the school’s faculty members encouraging them to express their views about changes to the freshman orientation and academic calendars. Kara and Adam discuss the factors that led to Kara’s long, ongoing ordeal with the school’s administration and how her hearing before the MSU Student-Faculty Judiciary has played out so far. The outcome of […]

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  • Episode 135: Michigan State University Student Faces Suspension for ‘Spam’ after E-Mailing Professors

    December 8, 2008

    In today’s episode of FIREside Chats, Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program is joined by Kara Spencer, the MSU student government leader who faces suspension for “spam” after she e-mailed about 8 percent of the school’s faculty members, encouraging them to express their views about changes to the freshman orientation and academic calendars.

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  • Weekly Media Round-Up: FIRE’s Pressure on Michigan State Over ‘Spamming’ Case Heating Up

    December 5, 2008

    While FIRE awaits the results of this week’s disciplinary hearing of Michigan State University (MSU) undergraduate Kara Spencer—who faces possible suspension for sending “spam” e-mails to 391 MSU professors—word of the case and FIRE’s involvement has quickly spread throughout the East Lansing, Michigan, campus and beyond. Shortly following the sending of FIRE’s letter to MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, an article in MSU’s paper, The State News, alerted the campus community to the university’s outrageous overreaction to Spencer’s e-mails, which conveyed relevant information about impending changes to the school’s academic calendar. Word of MSU’s threats against Spencer has also […]

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  • CNET Covers MSU ‘Spam’ Case

    December 5, 2008

    Declan McCullagh, CNET News’ chief political correspondent, has just posted an article on FIRE’s active case at Michigan State University (MSU). As we reported yesterday, MSU junior Kara Spencer faces suspension for “spam” because she e-mailed about 8 percent of MSU’s faculty to ask them to lend their voices to campus debate about changes to the MSU academic calendar and freshman orientation calendar. The MSU administration seemed to be pushing these changes through quickly, allowing less than a month for discussion. With the support of the University Committee on Student Affairs (UCSA), a formal MSU committee that includes students, several […]

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  • Michigan State to student leader: political e-mail is spam

    December 5, 2008

    Most schools encourage students to become active in campus politics. Not Michigan State University, which has filed disciplinary charges against a student leader who sent e-mail criticizing an abbreviated fall semester. Kara Spencer’s encounter with MSU’s disciplinary apparatus started in September, when the student government member began discussing the shortened fall 2009 schedule with a small group of faculty members and administrators. She followed up by contacting 391 faculty members by e-mail, saying that professors should be aware of the “burden for class schedules and syllabi” the change would involve. The e-mail irked a single faculty member, Katherine Gross, who […]

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  • Michigan State University student faces suspension for e-mailing letter to professors

    December 5, 2008

    A student government leader at Michigan State University could be facing suspension for sending a mass e-mail to professors about a proposed change to the school calendar – an e-mail that the university is labeling spam. On Sept. 15, Kara Spencer, a senior and the associated students director at MSU, sent a letter to 391 university professors speaking out against a proposal from the Provost to shorten the fall semester by two days and to shorten Fall Welcome, reducing the amount of time new students would have to adjust to college living. Click here to read Kara Spencer’s e-mail to […]

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  • Michigan State University Student Faces Suspension for ‘Spam’ after E-Mailing Professors

    December 4, 2008

    A leader of Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) student government faces suspension for “spam” after she carefully selected and e-mailed about 8 percent of the school’s faculty members encouraging them to express their views about changes to the freshman orientation and academic calendars. With the blessing of one of MSU’s formal committees, MSU junior Kara Spencer notified 391 faculty members about pending changes to the university calendar. On September 4, 2008, the central administration had notified the faculty that next year’s Academic Calendar and Fall Welcome (freshman orientation) each would be shortened by two days, and MSU’s central administration was giving […]

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  • Michigan State University Student Faces Suspension for ‘Spam’ after E-Mailing Professors

    December 4, 2008

    EAST LANSING, Mich., December 4, 2008—A leader of Michigan State University’s student government faces suspension for “spam” after she carefully selected and e-mailed about 8 percent of the school’s faculty members encouraging them to express their views about changes to the freshman orientation and academic calendars. Student Kara Spencer, who faced a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday, has turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help. “If e-mailing faculty members with concerns about a university calendar is outside the parameters of acceptable speech at Michigan State, no student should feel safe contacting professors about any relevant matter […]

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  • Victory at MSU: SAC Program Dismantled

    May 3, 2007

    It’s been a long time coming, but change has finally come for Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) Student Accountability in Community (SAC) program. Yes, after months of pressure from FIRE, MSU has finally seen the error of their ways, announcing in a letter to FIRE last week that the controversial SAC program has been dismantled. In his letter, Vice President for Student Affairs and Services Lee June says that “the program is not currently operating,” and that if it returns, it will no longer be mandatory, nor will it punish students for engaging in protected speech.   By now, most Torch […]

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  • Cathy Young on SFSU and Censorship Masquerading as ‘Tolerance’

    April 10, 2007

    In Reason Online yesterday, the ever-reasonable Cathy Young discussed a string of FIRE cases involving students punished for expressing hostility toward Islam. Young notes that there is a disturbing trend afoot involving college administrators acting hastily, often with disciplinary action, against students who have been seen as blaspheming Islam. Of course there is the SFSU case, in which students were put on trial for desecrating not just the flags of terrorist organizations, but the name “Allah.” Young ties SFSU’s actions in with the Mohammed cartoon controversy and even Michigan State University’s recent attempt to make the Young Americans for Freedom […]

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  • MSU Stays Quiet About SAC’s Future

    April 6, 2007

    Lee June, Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) Vice President for Student Affairs and Services, insisted this week that the school’s controversial Student Accountability in Community (SAC) program would return in a modified form, although he refused to detail precisely what aspects of the program would be modified.   Responding to FIRE’s March 29 letter requesting more details about future changes to the SAC program promised by June in an earlier letter to FIRE, June told MSU student newspaper The State News that the school “[doesn’t] believe the program is operating in such a way that it should be dismantled, although we […]

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  • Rights group tells MSU to improve

    April 5, 2007

    Officials at a national First Amendment organization say they could list MSU as a place where constitutional speech isn’t protected—unless the university responds satisfactorily to their demands. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, wants MSU to dismantle a disciplinary seminar it says stifles students’ constitutional rights. The possible placement on the list “sounds to me like a threat,” said Lee June, MSU’s vice president for Student Affairs and Services. After the group’s initial criticism of the Student Accountability in Community Seminar in February, June conducted a formal review. “We examine programs for their educational value and the […]

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  • FIRE Responds to MSU: SAC Program Reform Insufficient, Inconclusive

    March 30, 2007

    After Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) internal review of the school’s Student Accountability in Community (SAC) program, FIRE remains unconvinced of the program’s constitutionality.   That was the message sent to MSU Vice President for Student Affairs Lee N. June in a letter yesterday from FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. Yesterday’s letter was sent in response to June’s March 7 letter to FIRE, which outlined MSU’s changes to the SAC program after FIRE repeatedly criticized it as unconstitutional. Specifically, June said that MSU’s review of the SAC program concluded that there was “no basis for believing that the program has employed offensive […]

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  • ‘Obsession’ Screening at Michigan State to Proceed

    March 22, 2007

    When the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter at Michigan State University decided to show the film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” YAF members thought it would be a good idea to have security present during the screening. “Obsession” has been a hotly contested film on many campuses, plus a YAF-cosponsored campus appearance by U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo last December was interrupted first by a fire alarm, then by protesting students who wouldn’t let Tancredo continue his speech.   Michigan State responded to the request for police presence at “Obsession” by deferring to a campus policy stating that […]

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  • FIRE to MSU: We’re Waiting…

    March 7, 2007

    On February 22, 2007, FIRE sent a follow-up letter to Michigan State University (MSU) President Lou Anna K. Simon regarding MSU’s Student Accountability in Community (SAC) program. FIRE reiterated the point made to MSU in FIRE’s first letter, that the SAC program is anathema to nearly every tenet of a free society. In an article in The State News (“Is an MSU program manipulating your thoughts? Student accountability seminar currently under review,” 2/12/2007), Vice President for Student Affairs and Services Lee N. June indicated that the MSU administration would make a decision about what to do with the SAC program in […]

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  • FIRE to MSU: Do the Right Thing

    February 23, 2007

    Yesterday, FIRE sent Michigan State University (MSU) President Lou Anna K. Simon a follow-up letter concerning MSU’s blatantly unconstitutional Student Accountability in Community (SAC) program. In the letter, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff implores President Simon to recognize MSU’s obligations under the Constitution as a state actor and dismantle the SAC program, attaching a copy of his critical article in The Detroit News, which efficiently catalogues the program’s deficiencies under the Bill of Rights.   In addition to reiterating the core concerns FIRE has about the SAC program’s violations of students’ rights to free speech, freedom of conscience, and due process, […]

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  • Michigan State University Alum Responds to ‘Detroit News’ Article on Thought Reform

    February 20, 2007

    An alumnus of Michigan State University, Stephen Szepietowski, responded today to my column on MSU’s Orwellian thought reform program: I was pretty shocked to see Greg Lukianoff’s commentary (“MSU pursues Orwellian thought reform,” Feb. 7). As a summer 2006 graduate from Michigan State University, I was unaware of such a program, which is scary enough. Has our society become too frightened of free thought that we now need to stamp down anything that can be deemed troublesome? What Lukianoff has stumbled on is indeed a flagrant violation of the First Amendment. This program needs to be junked immediately. Thank you, […]

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  • Misleading at MSU

    February 14, 2007

    On Monday, the Michigan State University (MSU) student newspaper The State News published an article about the school’s Student Accountability in Community (SAC) program. The article, which details some of FIRE’s concerns about the program’s constitutionality, includes distressing quotes from MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon: “You don’t get into the program because you choose to; you’ve gotten there because you’ve been found guilty of something,” she said. “It’s sort of like when you go to an alcohol diversion program. You don’t have a First Amendment right to control the content of your alcohol diversion program.” “You don’t have a […]

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  • FIRE Editorial on MSU in ‘The Detroit News’

    February 7, 2007

    FIRE President Greg Lukianoff opined on the Orwellian nature of Michigan State University’s (MSU’s) Student Accountability in Community program in The Detroit News today. As FIRE has previously described, the Student Accountability in Community (SAC) program is a disciplinary early intervention seminar that not only punishes students for making practical jokes and rude remarks, but forces students whose behaviors or attitudes are considered unacceptable to undergo mandatory ideological reeducation at their own expense. The SAC program materials show that the program is aimed at forcing students to admit that behaviors they might have seen as merely rude or prankish are […]

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  • Emmett Hogan on 2006: The More Things Change…?

    January 5, 2007

    Emmett Hogan is a student at University of Michigan Law School and a luminary early FIRE employee. As we looked back on 2006 in campus rights and abuses I wanted to check in with him for his thoughts on the past year in FIRE history. This was his thoughtful response: One of FIRE’s most gripping cases from 2006 involved a breathtaking exercise in thought reform by Michigan State University. FIRE publicly challenged what MSU calls a “Student Accountability in Community Seminar” (SAC) which is intended to address student behavior that administrators consider unacceptable; the seminar is successful only when it […]

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  • ‘Orwellian dystopia at Michigan State’

    December 19, 2006

    Check out Luke’s article on Family Security Matters, in which he discusses Michigan State University’s truly disturbing Student Accountability in Community (SAC) program. Luke also points out the serious due process and self-incrimination problems presented by such a program: A heavy emphasis is put on refusing to allow the student to “obfuscate” the issue. Obfuscation is defined as a student who “lies or denies what they did.” In other words, there will be no pleading innocent. Such examples of obfuscation are claiming the behavior or action was “just a joke” or otherwise denying that one intentionally committed the action out […]

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  • MSU blocks free speech, group says

    December 15, 2006

    An independent watchdog group is demanding that Michigan State University end a program that counsels students for inappropriate remarks or actions, claiming the program violates the students’ first amendment rights. MSU Vice President Lee June declined to comment on the accusation Thursday, saying the university is looking into the allegations. The program, called the Students for Accountability in Community seminar, is for “students who have intimidated, harassed or abused another community member on the basis of individual characteristics like race/ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation,” according to the MSU Web site. Students pay $50 for the four-part seminar, plus $10 for […]

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  • Thought Reform and Compelled Speech at Michigan State

    December 14, 2006

    Today, FIRE issued a press release on the simply stunning thought reform program at Michigan State University. The university’s Student Accountability in Community seminar (SAC) forces students whose speech or behavior is deemed unacceptable to undergo ideological reeducation at their own expense. While the “seminar” can be either a “voluntary” or mandatory sanction, according to Michigan State administrators a student can receive a mandatory sanction for something as minimal as slamming a door in an argument. A mandatory SAC sanction, by the way, means that if you do not complete the four pseudo-psychological “educational” sessions a hold will be placed […]

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  • Michigan State University Engaged in Thought Reform

    December 14, 2006

    EAST LANSING, Mich., December 14, 2006—It may be almost 2007, but it feels more like “1984” at Michigan State University. The university’s Student Accountability in Community Seminar (SAC) forces students whose speech or behavior is deemed unacceptable to undergo ideological reeducation at their own expense. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is challenging Michigan State to dismantle this unconstitutional program, which presents a profound threat to both freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. “Michigan State’s SAC program is simply one of the most invasive attempts at reeducation that FIRE has ever seen, yet it has been allowed […]

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